Friday, July 31, 2009

atm machines, crime, and the lily burk killing

Maybe I'm missing something here, but in the light of Lily Burk's tragic killing, this suggestion from a letter-writer to the Los Angeles Times makes a lot of sense:
To help future victims forced by criminals to withdraw funds from ATM machines, I call on banks to offer the option of a customized emergency personal identification number linked to debit and credit cards. These would allow cash to be withdrawn but would also trigger a silent alarm.

Evie Tole

Rancho Cucamonga

warren zevon - keep me in your heart

Funny People opens today. I'll have my review up in a little while -- sorry, I've been busy with other work -- but since the movie includes this song, I had to throw it up on the site in the meantime. Just a beautiful tune.

(I will say that I think Funny People is better than most people do, and it's certainly Judd Apatow's best film.)

district 9

I was in love with District 9 after its first act. Then, the rest of the film happened. I explain what goes wrong in my review at Screen International.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

memories of lacma's wonderful weekend film program

I'm still getting over the news, announced yesterday, that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art will be discontinuing its weekend film series. Frankly, the only news that would have been worse would be LACMA deciding to do away with the Bing Theater altogether.

Some of my favorite moviegoing memories of the last 10-12 years are in that theater. Off the top of my head ...
  • Having the entire theater to myself for one whole day last summer when I reviewed the restored seven-hour version of Sergei Bondarchuk's War and Peace for L.A. Weekly. I got to live out some last-man-on-Earth fantasies that day.
  • Catching a double feature of Safe and the Bob Flanagan documentary Sick in the late '90s. During Safe, there was a weird buzzing going on -- was it the print? the speakers? -- that only added to that film's hypnotic hold on the viewer.
  • Seeing Robert Altman's Short Cuts for the umpteenth time and being convinced that this might be the greatest Los Angeles film ever.
  • Watching Jeanne Dielman for the first time this past April and being convinced that this might be one of the greatest films ever.
  • Sitting a row in front of Chris Parnell a few weeks later for Carlos Reygadas' Silent Light. The film's flaws aside, this is the sort of movie whose power simply cannot be duplicated on DVD. It's not that you need to be sitting by Parnell, but you need strangers around you, all silently soaking in the same images as you are at the exact same time.
  • Finally getting my wish to show my wife Edward Yang's Yi Yi last October. Again, it's a movie you have to see in a theater the first time.
  • Discovering 1946's The Murderers Are Among Us, the opening-night selection of LACMA's "Two Germanys" film series from this past winter. My wife just had a feeling it was worth seeing, so we went. She was right.
  • The Preston Sturges retrospective of the late '90s. From the sold-out audience's reaction to The Lady Eve, you'd swear the film was just as fresh and relevant as it ever was.
  • Being baffled by Don't Look Now on my initial viewing.
  • Seeing Sleeping Beauty again for the first time in forever.
  • Wishing I wasn't so exhausted while trying to absorb Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo.
  • Getting lost all over again with McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
I know I'm forgetting some, but I'll just stop right there. I didn't go every week or every month, but I liked knowing that LACMA's film program was there. Now it's gone. I wonder what it's like to have hobbies and passions that aren't constantly undermined by financial woes and fickle audience tastes. Must be nice.

Friday, July 24, 2009

radiohead - sail to the moon

This week was my niece's 7th birthday. For whatever reason, this song always makes me think of her -- I think it's the line "Maybe you'll/be President/But know right from wrong." If my memory is correct, Hail to the Thief was recorded around the time Yorke had his first child, and the album's concerns seem to be coming in part from the perspective of a parent worrying about the future of a planet he's leaving behind for his offspring.

Anyway, those are my impressions of "Sail to the Moon." Here's a superb live version ...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

american cowslip

American Cowslip is the type of movie for people who think slightly over-the-hill actors camping it up as small-town local yokels is hysterical. My review is at L.A. Weekly.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

karina longworth on antichrist

She's one of the few film critics I really agree with on Lars von Trier's Antichrist:
You can put me on the “pro” side on Antichrist, although I’m not without my reservations. I’m certainly not offended by it, nor do I think other members of my gender necessarily should be. (Before I saw the film, a male journalist told me, in a way that suggested it was beyond opinion, that “no woman” could possible feel positively about it; this statement of “fact” strikes me as more sexist than anything Von Trier actually put on screen.) [...] Antichrist frustrates attempts to dismiss Von Trier for somehow not knowing what he’s doing.
There are big problems with Antichrist, which I think Longworth nails pretty well. But the sheer confidence and skill put into the endeavor are impossible to deny. And as she notes, he's a filmmaker who knows what he's doing -- even if you have issues with his methods and attitudes (and lord knows he opens the door to such complaints), there is no doubt that he's expertly saying what he wants to say.

I'll post my own review closer to the film's release in October.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

paris, je t'aime

Paris, je t'aime, the charming 2007 omnibus film set in the City of Light, will be making a return appearance this weekend at the New Beverly. I explain why it's worth a second look at L.A. Weekly.

Monday, July 20, 2009

the ugly truth - the review

She thinks he's uptight, he thinks she's a prude -- it's The Ugly Truth! My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, July 17, 2009

white stripes - blue orchid

I'm thinking about my favorite songs of this decade. This is one of them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

vinessa shaw remembers stanley kubrick and eyes wide shut

Great piece over at Movieline -- today is the 10th anniversary of the release of Eyes Wide Shut, and to mark the occasion, S.T. Vanairsdale interviewed actress Vinessa Shaw, who played the prostitute Domino in the film. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's a quote I liked in response to the potential frustration for an actor in doing take after take after take:
It could have been frustrating for another actor, or even me at another time in my life. But because this was the first movie I’d done as an adult — I’d really just done kids movies before this — it was my first real movie where I felt, “Wow, there’s such a process behind this.” A development of character and letting the scene happen rather than forcing it to happen — that’s what Stanley taught me about while we were making this movie. Honestly, at that point I wasn’t sure I wanted to act anymore because I hadn’t seen that kind of magic. What would really happen if you slowed everything down? Every moment, or the planning of every scene? The writing, or the rewriting? I felt like I was finally understanding what movies were about. If you let something unfold, it could be very magical, like an athlete getting into the zone. I felt like after doing it multiple times, I was in this zone that was very different than me remembering my mark or remembering my line. It just became this organic moment. I think that usually only happens with actors who do theater, perhaps. Or who do a Kubrick movie. It was a very special world that could have driven a lot of people mad.
She was only 21 when she worked on Eyes Wide Shut. She hasn't come close to being part of a project quite as special since, although I thought she was great in the superb Two Lovers.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Neko Case - 'Middle Cyclone' Review

Neko Case continues her North American tour with a stop in Detroit on July 22. To honor the occasion, I discuss her latest album, Middle Cyclone, for the Detroit Metro Times. The piece starts like this:
Neko Case wasn't made for these times, but if it's any consolation to her, she probably wouldn't have fit in well in any era.
The rest is here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

on the emotionally powerful taking chance

Two key quotes in a February interview with L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas from the filmmakers behind Taking Chance:

From Lieutenant Colonel Michael Strobl, whose memoir inspired the film:
“To me, this is not a movie about Iraq,” Strobl says, “this is a movie about America.”
From director Ross Katz, who wrote the screenplay with Strobl:
“I remember one particular night after reading [Strobl's memoir],” Katz says, “I turned on CNN and yet another roadside bomb had ripped through yet another Baghdad market, and I sat there and I didn’t feel anything. I was extremely angry with myself, because I thought, intellectually I know how tragic this is, but I don’t feel anything, because for years I have been seeing this 24-hour news/cyber/cell-phone footage. I walked out on the street and life was just normal. I thought, there’s a parent who just got a knock on the door, and why does everything look the same? It just didn’t add up to me, and so that was kind of my leaping-off point.”
Taking Chance, which premiered at Sundance before airing on HBO in February, tells the true story of Strobl's journey in 2004 to escort the body of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, who was killed while stationed in Iraq, to his family.

The film spends most of its short running time revealing the detail-by-detail process that goes in to preparing a dead soldier's body, and the story's emotional restraint (highlighted by a terrifically understated performance from Kevin Bacon) makes the journey both illuminating and almost unbearably poignant.

No speeches, no showy passages, no grand summations -- Taking Chance may be a little too small-screen in its execution, but its formal modesty belies the deep veins of emotion that are pulsing underneath. As Strobl correctly states, this isn't about Iraq -- it's about America and, perhaps more specifically, how difficult a time we have grappling with death. Plus, the movie's clear-eyed respect for the country's military communities -- the small towns where service is passed down from generation to generation and is as ingrained into the fabric of society as the Friday night football game and the senior prom -- is a thing of beauty. All the movie asks is that you feel, and by resisting the story's inherently manipulative elements, Taking Chance accomplishes its mission. It's not an "Iraq War movie," but that's part of the reason it's so terrific.

Friday, July 10, 2009

randy newman - i love l.a.

Since I nominated Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." as the definitive Los Angeles song earlier this week, I thought I'd track down the video. Everything I said earlier about the song goes double for the video, plus it's part of that honorable subgenre of videos made in the early '80s by established artists whose attitude toward MTV seemed to be, "These video things are completely stupid, but screw it, if it'll get some stupid kids to buy our album, let's make one."

By the way, for those who haven't been to Los Angeles in a while, the Disneyland sign looks a little different now.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

the dead weather - horehound review

Another day, another new side project for Jack White. This time it's the Dead Weather, which is a collaboration between him and the Kills' Alison Mosshart. The Kills always sounded like a meaner, filthier White Stripes, so this team-up makes a lot of sense. I review the band's debut album, Horehound, at About.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

who wrote the definitive song about los angeles?

From an interview between Tom Waits and Beck:
Tom Waits: Not every town gets their song. Actually, Sinatra tried to do a song about Los Angeles. It was really lame. Really lame. It embarrassed the s*** out of me.

Beck Hansen: That was in the 80's right?

TW: "LA, You're a Lady." It was one of those lame, awful... Maybe it's the rhyme or the rhythm of the name Los Angeles.

BH: Yeah I don't think anyone has written a definitive LA song.

TW: Maybe it's the rhyme or the rhythm of the name Los Angeles.

BH: Yeah, I don't think you can...

TW: But Chicago or St Louis, such cool sounding names. New Orleans. So many songs about New Orleans.
Without thinking about it more than three seconds, I'd pick Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." The satire, the bad-'80s quality of the production -- it still feels absolutely right in its depiction of this town. But maybe I'm forgetting a better choice.

Friday, July 03, 2009

dj jazzy jeff and the fresh prince - summertime

Happy Fourth, everyone. Here's a version of summer that never, ever happened to me. But it sounds pretty great, right?

kambakkht ishq review

Kambakkht Ishq is a Bollywood romantic comedy set in the world of Hollywood stuntmen and, er, Santa Monica surgeons. It involves a real Don Juan type who encounters the one beautiful woman who is immune to his charms. The movie is all singing-and-dancing fluff from there, but it's really, really fun fluff. My review is at L.A. Weekly.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

the king of comedy

This is a newish feature called Blind Spots that I do occasionally on this blog. It'll give me a chance to write about movies or albums or whatever that I missed during their initial run. I'll write them in the style of Consumables and, ideally, this exercise of going back will help me fill in some gaps. I'll write these whenever the spirit moves me.

The King of Comedy

How can you tell that I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool Martin Scorsese fan? The King of Comedy and The Last Waltz are my two favorite movies of his. It's not that I'm opposed to the four Scorsese films everybody else holds up as his masterpieces -- Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas -- but none of them fully works for me. (Their men-are-men pathos can get a little thick for my taste.) Hence, The Last Waltz and The King of Comedy, which are certainly centered around men as well but aren't quite so enthralled with masculinity that it dominates the proceedings. The Last Waltz pops up enough on cable that I feel pretty confident of its greatness, but I haven't seen The King of Comedy in probably 15 years.
So I re-watched it, curious how it would hold up...

There's nothing like that uncomfortable feeling of knowing that you initially overrated a movie, but, then again, uncomfortable feelings are this movie's reason for being. There are few films that work so hard to make you actively hate all its characters, particularly its thoroughly unpleasant protagonist: Rupert Pupkin (played by Robert De Niro). But where Taxi Driver (another Scorsese film about a loser driven to take matters into his own hands) always felt like a glorification of nihilism, The King of Comedy seems to know full well that these people (even Jerry Lewis's popular talk-shot host) are all miserable wretches you don't want to emulate. And as opposed to another '70s film I find overrated, Network, The King of Comedy continually grounds its satire of television and celebrity in reality -- frankly, I'd be amazed if some lunatic hasn't tried copying this film's kidnapping ploy to get him- or herself on TV.

Still, this movie isn't as perfect as I remembered. De Niro's string of self-loathing performances with Scorsese continues here, and it's hard at points not to wonder what awful thing he did in his personal life that inspired such a willingness to berate himself in front of the camera. With that said, though, he is playing a character who's an acquired taste, and you have to credit the actor for not worrying about making us love him deep down. Plus, I'd forgotten how well De Niro performs Rupert's big monologue -- you believe that this slimy creep really has some (but not all) of the tools to become a stand-up comedian, if only he could learn to self-edit a little.

Sandra Bernhard in the best of circumstances is a dicey proposition, and a little of her goes a long way here. But Jerry Lewis really is fantastic -- without overdoing it, he conveys the sense of a man who got what he wanted in life and is depressed to realize how unfulfilling a realized dream is. He's only slightly less completely miserable than everybody else in the movie.

And then there's the ending. I'm in the camp that believes that everything after Rupert's arrest at the bar is a fantasy -- it has to be, right? No, in fact it doesn't have to be, which is one of the movie's great strengths -- it makes the case that lowlife freaks become famous all the time for the weirdest of reasons. Just about nothing in Network feels believable in 2009, but The King of Comedy still feels ahead of the curve.